Front and center of this upcoming 2008 presidential election is the issue of who is best prepared to deal with a struggling U.S. economy, and which candidate would make a good CEO.
Recently, Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and John McCain supporter, told St. Louis radio station KTRS that McCain's V.P. pick, Sarah Palin, did not have the experience to be the CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
In an interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, she reiterated that position, and added that John McCain also couldn't run a major corporation.
She also added that neither Barack Obama nor Joe Biden had the experience to run a major corporation either.
Seizing on the opportunity, Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor chimed in, "If John McCain's top economic adviser doesn't think he can run a corporation, how on earth can he run the largest economy in the world in the midst of a financial crisis?"
That's a fair point. But does that mean that Obama would be a good CEO?
Maybe Obama thinks that being a major corporate CEO is kind of like community organizing, except on a bigger scale.
No disrespect to community organizers, who perform a valuable service to communities across the country, but running a Fortune 500 company is a task that few ever have both the qualifications and the privilege to undertake.
So that led me to think, what type of experience does it take to be a CEO? And do CEO's necessarily make good politicians?
When I think of the classic American CEO, my mind conjures up images of Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller, and Flagler. What made these men successful?
These men were men of vision. They saw what others could not see. But more importantly, they never let anyone get in their way of implementing their vision.
When oil and gasoline were still in their nascent phases, a young man from Cleveland had the vision to enter the oil refining business when few others did.
He took his dream, combined it with intense diligence and a true knowledge of how people and the world worked, to make his success.
As that man began to increase his wealth and holdings, he didn't let little things like "monopoly," "interstate commerce," and "legal barriers" stop him.
Being the CEO that he was meant he had to crack a few eggs to make some omelets. He had to make tough decisions in order to get where he wanted to, and the buck stopped with him.
He was his own man and was very much in charge of his team.
The man had a vision, ruled with an iron fist, and let's face it, he bent a few rules to get to the top.
That man was John D. Rockefeller, the original captain of industry in the United States, and forever an icon of an American CEO.
However, while Rockefeller is the consummate CEO, his traits don't necessarily translate well to politics.
Judith Glaser, executive coach and author of "The DNA of Leadership," says governing is more like pushing a rope than cracking a whip. Once you get in office, you have to start to build consensus, and CEOs get startled by that.
In politics, America doesn't like leaders who break the rules and who rule with an iron fist. The "my way or the highway" attitude doesn't play well in politics.
The rules of business are far different than the rules of Washington, D.C.
Instead, politicians use words and phrases like "bipartisanship" and "reaching across the aisle" to describe their leadership styles. Politicians function when they are building consensus and not burning bridges.
So that brings us back to the original question, Would Obama make a good CEO?
When it comes to vision, many give Obama high marks. He seems to have a vision for what America should be. We can agree or disagree with his vision or debate what exactly his vision is, but he does seem to have one.
However, having a vision means more than seeing something. It means putting it into action.
That's where Obama gets into trouble.
He is proposing new plans and new ideas, but he does not have a plan of implementation.
What he is proposing is $800 billion of new spending over the next four years, with no real plan on where to come up with the funds to implement these programs, let alone know how to run them.
So Obama gets low grades on implementation.
Next, a CEO is the last line of the defense in many cases. They are the ones who make the decisions and can't pass the buck to anyone else.
When we look at the record of Barack Obama, there are 129 things that stand out, his "present" votes in the Illinois Senate.
Here is a man who is looking to make all of the big decisions in this country, and he couldn't even make up his mind on 129 pieces of legislation.
In the U.S. Senate, if you don't want to vote for a bill, you just don't show up to the Senate Chambers that day. In the current 110th Congress, Obama has missed 291 votes.
On decision making, Obama gets low grades once again.
On bending a few rules or two, we can debate whether Obama's sweetheart loan from Countrywide or his below-market land purchase from Rezko was illegal or unethical. But he didn't make those moves to get a bill passed or to enact a government program.
That brings us to the last trait in being a good CEO, being in charge of one's team.
Obama from his own admission can't even keep track of the papers on his desk. So how is he supposed to keep track of all of his campaign people, let alone an entire country?
While Obama's great stump speech has created the sizzle, the bulk of the credit should go to Obama's Chief Strategist David Axelrod, and Campaign Manager David Plouffe for the Obama campaign's great organization and discipline.
It is important to have quality people surround you. Ask any CEO and they'll will tell you that it is of utmost importance that you are surrounded by quality people.
However, the CEO must be in charge of his team and know what's going on in the intimate details of the operation.
In Obama's campaign, we see evidence of this through Obama campaign leaks and also statements that are allegedly made without Obama's knowledge or approval.
Case in point, when Sarah Palin was selected to be the vice presidential running mate for John McCain, the Obama campaign immediately released a statement downplaying Governor Palin's experience as a small town mayor.
After learning of the statement from the media, Obama and his running mate Joe Biden, put out a joint statement congratulating Governor Palin. Obama later shifted the blame for the original statement claiming that campaigns are so big that they can get anxious to put things out without his knowledge.
This wasn't just a normal run of the mill campaign slip up. This was the day that the first woman nominee from the Republican Party was announced.
Do you mean to tell me that Obama didn't think it was important to review the statement before it went out? Or maybe he thought he could vote present on whether to release the statement.
It is little things like this that let us know that Obama is not truly at the helm of his campaign.
For this topic, he gets mixed grades. He knows how to put good people in place to run his team, but he clearly deflects responsibility when his team makes mistakes. A true CEO subscribes to the Harry Truman-way of thinking; "the buck stops here."
All things considered, Obama would not make a good CEO, at least not for any company that I would buy shares in.
That's why I feel that Obama has found his true calling in life, a professional campaigner.
Obama has always been running for office, whether it was the Illinois State Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and now the White House.
The beauty of campaigning is that all you have to do is talk about what you are going to do. By permanently campaigning, you can keep up the charade.
However, if Obama gets to the White House, there is no other office to campaign for. He finally has to take action and perform.
That's the true test of a CEO, to take action and perform when there is no other option but to take action and perform. It is a test that Obama has managed to avoid, and a test that eventually he may have to take.
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